The CIO may historically have had no stronger ally in the C-suite than the COO.  The focus of both roles has typically been on improving operational efficiency and reducing costs.  A large percentage of IT projects supported these twin objectives and may have ultimately been under the oversight of the COO.  It is interesting that many COOs express that they face an issue of visibility.  When everything is running smoothly, they rarely receive the credit they truly deserve.  Yet when things go wrong, they can appear to be in the crosshairs.  That is very much akin to an issue the CIO faces in keeping the lights on.high-five_business_partners

Today’s COO faces increasing demand and complexity.   Perhaps more than ever before, companies are realizing that although cost minimization and efficiency are very important, they must be careful not to adversely impact functions that customers value or that are needed to achieve strategic goals.  As such, the COO is being called upon to strike the balance between efficiency and flexibility.  Change has become more of a constant, and the COO is assuming a major role in the business transformation necessary to achieve the strategic agenda.  Again, isn’t it easy to see the commonality with what the CIO is being asked to do?

CIOs have seen so much synergy in the roles that they envision the COO position as their next step up the corporate ladder (Forbes’ Beyond CIO series).  But even with all this in common, COOs view their relationship with the CIO as one of their least successful among other executives.  In fact, just 32% of COOs consider their relationship with the CIO to be very strong (The DNA of the COO by Ernst & Young).  

There is much to be gained by improving the relationship between COO and CIO.  The COO would gain an ally who could ideate more technological opportunities to achieve the COO’s agenda.  The CIO would benefit from a partner who typically has a stronger relationship with the rest of the C-suite. 

Here are some practical actions the CIO can take to improve his relationship with the COO:

  • Let’s do lunch.  Get to know him on a personal level.  Learn what truly drives him.  Understand his goals and ambitions.  Find out about his family, his hobbies, and his interests.  Spending time together – inside and outside the office – strengthens relationships.
  • Cheer him on.  Celebrate his successes – even the small ones.  Become his advocate to others in the C-suite.   Regularly remind them how smoothly things are running.  Ensure they see the improvements he is making.  Ask specifically what you can do to help him become more successful, commit to what you can do, and then do it!
  • Ask for his help.  The COO often prides himself on his ability to build strong relationships with other executives.  Compliment his abilities in this regard and ask how you can improve.  Gain his assistance in better understanding the business and how to communicate in the language of the C-suite.
  • Keep the lights on without flickering.  Both the COO and the CIO are tasked with keeping things going while also improving operational efficiency and driving the strategic agenda.  Any hiccup in the day-to-day operation distracts from moving forward.  Ensure things are running smoothly and that your staff is proactive in recognizing and preventing potential problems.  At the same time, look for areas where you can improve cost efficiencies to free dollars for continued strategic investment.
  • Focus on data.  COOs are becoming even more data-driven with their decisions and view analytics and predictive models as valuable tools.  In fact, over half the other C-suite executives see the COO’s use of these tools as critical to his success (The DNA of the COO).  Talk about what additional data he would like to have.  Ensure he knows how others in your industry are using data to their advantage.  Explore how other data outside your company might be used to corporate benefit.
  • Improve change capabilities.  Organizational change is hard, and truth be told, most organizations are not very good at it.   Even so, change is becoming a constant, and transformation of most businesses is eminent as a result of technological, business environment, and societal/cultural changes.  Success in this transformation will take more focus on people than most companies have been accustomed to taking.  And honestly, many of the smaller changes generated by various technology projects could be improved by an improved focus on the people-side of change.  Spend time educating yourself, the COO, and the rest of the C-suite on change leadership and how to get people on board.

What additional suggestions do you have to help the CIO improve his relationship with the COO?

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